2 stars and a half

Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Stars by Hettie Grimstead

Whisper to the Stars, Hettie Grimstead, Harlequin, “Jh” cover artist

Harlequin Romance #1403

Spoiler-Free Review 🙂

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A Star of a Lower Magnitude

Whisper to the Stars is a vintage-contemporary romance that revolves around a trope hard to find nowadays: unrequited love. It starts out strong, with the promise of a deeply moving emo story. And it delivers, up to a point. Then it falters. Somewhere in the middle, it loses sight of what a romance is supposed to do: to engage and enthrall the reader.

Recently I read and reviewed for Sweet Savage Flame Yesterday’s Love by Marsha Manning, pen name of the prolific Hettie Grimstead. I was so enchanted that I sought out other romances by the same author. Which led me to Whisper to the Stars. To say I had high expectations would be putting it mildly.

It was first published in 1963 by Mills & Boon. The version I read is, of course, the transatlantic Harlequin reprint. Published in 1970, with three later editions (that I know of). It got pretty good ratings on Goodreads, so I must assume it was a crowd-pleaser.

For me, at least it was a good try.

To Love in Vain

Tessa Chievers is a young English woman living on the (fictitious) Italian Island of Raltia near the Bay of Naples. With her is her widower father, a reclusive painter of undoubted talent but questionable sanity. Tessa loves her home turf and its people but also longs to see London and experience life in the fast lane.

Then Colin Kenward turns up. At first he seems like a typical tourist, snapping photos of the island in general and Tessa in particular. She falls in love with him quickly. He doesn’t reciprocate.

But once he returns home to London, those pictures he took result in the first of many surprises in the storyline. Which I won’t reveal; I’m no fan of spoilers. 

Suffice it to say the upshot is a glamorous new life for Tessa. Though it doesn’t include Colin feeling for her what she feels for him. Instead it leads to the story going off in a most unfortunate direction.

It’s pretty easy to tell early on that Colin is the hero. So the reader would naturally expect the plot to focus on Tessa and him.

Instead, much of it, too much, deals with her rebound relationship with someone else. During the second half of the novel, the hero rarely appears. Why is the author spending so much time and wordage on a relationship that we readers know won’t end in an HEA? And is so dull, so artificial, so unromantic compared to the heroine’s earlier passion for the hero?

But Wait, There’s More

There are several secondary characters; many come to life and make the narrative more interesting. My favorites include a smart-alec gossip columnist for a Fleet Street tabloid. And a cute little poodle named Snowball. Yeah, I go for pets in rom-fic! 

But there’s also an absurd other-woman, a stuck-up beauty/spoiled rich girl/femme fatale. The author handles her very clumsily. 

In the first half of the novel, the plot moves along at a nice brisk pace. But eventually, it bogs down. Though the early events and situations seem natural and believable, even the surprises, by the latter chapters, contrivances take over. The story seems to keep going on life support if you know what I mean.

So, in conclusion, I’d say Whisper to the Stars has its moments. But not enough to make it a satisfying read.

It’s available on the major bookseller websites.

Or you can read WHISPER TO THE STARS online for FREE at the Internet Archive

10 replies »

  1. Thanks for publishing my review, Jacqueline. And for pointing out a clue to the identity of the cover artist.

    Hmmmm . . . “JH”. Who could he or she be? Anyone know?

    • Great review and in spite of your tepid reaction which I completely understand (why do authors imagine we want the heroine or hero to spend precious page time with a dud OM/OW?) you’ve managed to pique my interest about this one.

      • Thanks, Iris. Triangles and quadrangles were pretty common in old-school category romances. Sometimes they were done well. Sometimes not.

        Nowadays, with the focus so tight on the hero and heroine, comparable romances rarely deal with such elements. I miss them. And the light comedy and heavy drama they generated.

        Yeah, I know. Nowadays there are ménage à trois romances. Not the same thing!

  2. I put Jh in as a placeholder, because neither Iris nor I can confirm “his” identity, but clues point to a Jack Hearne, who created comic covers and illustrations for boy mysteries and action books. Or a Jack Harman, but the timing doesn’t fit. Or it could be someone else entirely. I keep an cover collection on Pinterest, so maybe I can identify him through that.

    • Because you mentioned the puzzle aspect of figuring out the clues and suddenly an artist is totally recognizable I’m going to be didactic for a bit so I’m apologizing in advance!

      From about 1963-1970, 3 artists were responsible for every cover–any outliers are prob reprints–with easily distinguishable styles: Bern Smith, Jack Harman and mystery man/woman “jh”.

      So if you look at any group of 5 images at Fictiondb you will likely see at least one of each artist. Just as a late example look at Harlequin Romances #1444-1446 from Nov 1970. Fond Deceiver cover is by Bern Smith whose sig is almost always visible. The Bay of the Nightingales is by Jack Harman, whose sig is often cut off by cropping but look for the capital H in the lower left corner. The Time of the Jacaranda cover is by jh who somehow always manages to get those lower case initials in the bottom left corner.

      • Thanks again, Iris. Please, be didactic! It’s such a challenge to find info about much of the vintage romance scene. I should know! I appreciate any bits you share.

        And yes, I’m a big fan of cover art. I believe good imagery and promo copy on the cover of a book significantly adds to the enjoyment of the text.

        And bad imagery and copy can detract from it!

      • Don’t want to scream like an over excited kid, but OMG thanks, Iris! Your information is so amazing & valuable. 🙂

        I can identity Bern Smith, Len Goldberg, and a few other oldies, but so many stump me. I’m better at 1970s-1990s covers, especially historicals.

        Sometimes I’m like Detective Poirot with these covers, other times, as bright as a black hole. I can’t believe I had to have you point out that Don Sinclair created the first 100+ covers for the Presents line. It was staring me right in the face!

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